40 years ago, One Million Bibles were Smuggled to China in one Night

A million Bibles is hard to imagine. You might be able to picture a hundred Bibles, or even a thousand – but a million is an extraordinary amount. That’s how many Bibles a team of Open Doors workers delivered to a Chinese beach in one night, 40 years ago. Here’s the extraordinary story of that night, and the legacy it has had.

Project Pearl saw a million Bibles being delivered to one Chinese beach in one night
It started with a request for 30,000 New Testaments. Mama Kwang led a wide house church network in China, after her husband was put in prison for his faith. Bibles were banned in China, but there was an enormous hunger among the underground church to be able to access the Word of God. Mama Kwang requested 30,000 New Testaments to answer an immediate need – and these were smuggled by Open Doors workers over the course of ten days. But Mama Kwang knew that this was only a short-term measure.

“Thank you so much for these New Testaments,” she said, “but we’re still short. If every Christian we know is to have a Bible, we need one million Bibles.”

And so Project Pearl was born. The project is named after Matthew 13:45, where Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a pearl of great value. Taking a million Bibles was a daunting task, but the leaders of Open Doors in 1981 were filled with faith that God would enable them to undertake this mission.

From printing press to Chinese beach
“It was a big challenge because we had them printed in the United States – the only place that had two printing presses working day and night for weeks to print a million Chinese Bibles,” remembers Paul Estabrook, one of the Open Doors staff members who was part of Project Pearl. “Each Bible weighed half a pound. It was like a very fat pocket size little Bible, but it was a complete Bible in the simplified script of China. A million of them weighed 232 tons.”

Printing them was one matter – getting them to China, from the United States, was another.

“If every Christian we know is to have a Bible, we need one million Bibles.”
“It took 20 containers to get all the blocks of books to Hong Kong,” says Estabrook. “There, we loaded it onto Gabriela, the barge that we had specially built in the Philippines for this project. The deck was just exactly large enough for 232 of these one-ton blocks.”

Twenty Open Doors workers from around the world came together into a crew to deliver the Bibles. Nineteen of them hadn’t even been to sea before. Mama Kwang had asked them to bring them to a beach just south of a city called Shantou, which had a high population of Christians. They would only have two hours to unload all one million Bibles.

Estabrook continues: “The idea was the barge, Gabriela, had a submarine-like function. It wouldn’t go underwater, but it could drop down to the level of the water. We had electric side doors that would go down and then all of these blocks could be pulled off of the deck – and they all floated. They could only be towed very slowly. All of these blocks were roped together, and we towed them in a row to the beach.” Continue Reading.

Jesus loves you, accept Him today, tomorrow might be too late.


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